Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

An old injury that's still painful accompanied by changes in skin color may be signs of complex regional pain syndrome.

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a form of chronic pain that may develop after an injury. It usually affects one arm, hand, leg or foot. CRPS varies in severity and duration. Some mild cases will eventually go away. More severe cases can lead to long-term disability.

CRPS can occur at any age, with a peak at age 40. It is more common in women than men and in people with other inflammatory and autoimmune conditions.

Experts aren’t certain what causes some people to develop CRPS while others do not. In more than 90 percent of cases, CRPS is triggered by trauma, such as fractures, sprains/strains, surgical or medical procedures and infections. It's thought that the injury triggers some part of the nervous system to malfunction, causing the syndrome.


The primary symptom of CRPS is ongoing severe pain that has been described as “burning,” “pins and needles” or as if someone were squeezing the affected body part. 

There are three distinct stages of CRPS:


In the first stage, signs and symptoms include:
•    Pain, swelling and stiffness in the affected areas.
•    Changes in temperature of the limb (gets warmer or cooler).
•    Changes in color of the affected limb (looks blotchy, pale, blue, purple, or red).
•    Rapid nail and hair growth.

The second stage occurs after weeks or months with symptoms that typically include:
•    Burning pain.
•    Cool skin.
•    Brittle nails.
•    Swelling.
•    Muscle spasms.

The third stage may result in permanent changes and is marked by:
•    Severe pain.
•    Changes in skin texture (shiny and thin skin).
•    Muscle weakness or problems coordinating movements.
•    Reduced joint movement and limb function.

There is no specific test that can diagnose or confirm CRPS. A careful review of past injuries, symptoms, and medical and family history will help make the diagnosis. Laboratory tests can help rule out other causes of symptoms.
An early diagnosis and treatment can help reduce or prevent permanent damage. Treatments may include:
•    Biofeedback.
•    Medications. 
•    Physical therapy. 
•    Occupational therapy.
•    Psychotherapy. 
•    Surgery.
•    Nerve stimulation.
•    Nerve blocks.

Learn more about the medications used to treat CRPS at arthritis drug guide.
Living with a chronic pain condition can be all-consuming. Taking care of your body, mind and spirit helps your body to heal and allow you to live your best life. Eat a nutritious diet, maintain a healthy weight, move your body, balance activity and rest, meditate and spend time with friends. 


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